I wrote “Sunset” fifteen years ago. At the time, I decided not to publish it because it seemed too morbid and pessimistic. Today it reads almost like a children’s story | Fiction | Fresh Soup
Fifteen years ago, I tried to write a series of stories documenting the life of one person, from birth (the first story was about an argument between parents about whether to get their son circumcised) to death. The stations along the way were very mundane: first day at school, first experience of death, first kiss. The last station I wrote was “Sunset,” and then I just stopped. I knew that my fictional hero was continuing on his way, but after writing “Sunset” I felt that his life was too difficult and gloomy for me. Strangely, when I reread the story a few days ago, it didn’t seem as severe or depressing as I’d remembered it. I’m not sure if I’ve hardened over time, or if it’s just that in the intervening decade and a half, reality has closed some of the gaps between the apocalyptic world of “Sunset” and the one we’re living in.
After four straight days of rain, the earthquake struck in Ashkelon, and even before they’d buried the dead, a rabbi in a tailored suit went on TV to say that God was angry. After that, the pandemic hit. Doctors claimed it was nothing more than a very potent virus, but they kept calling it “the pandemic” on TV, so they decided not to send their little boy to kindergarten. It’s not that adults weren’t dying of it, but the mortality rate among kids was much higher. The second earthquake hit near Tel Aviv, and her mother was among the dead. The daily papers covered the natural disasters from various angles and cautioned that, beyond the immediate damage, the situation was also causing a decline in foreign investments. Then there was the cannibal from Ashdod, and the lynching of a Romanian construction worker in south Tel Aviv, and all those new diseases, the ones transmitted by rats, which the Ministry of Environmental Protection explained were directly connected to the earthquakes. A rat bit him on the foot when he took the trash out one evening, but at the hospital they said that, miraculously, the rat hadn’t been carrying the disease and there was nothing to worry about. On the internet, a senior economic pundit said it was a good time to buy real estate because the market was scraping the bottle of the barrel and creating once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Mainly in Ashdod, because of the whole cannibalism story and the way it was blown up in the media, but also in the rest of the country. Someone with a good sense of smell, the pundit said, could find a real bargain. They debated whether or not it was a good idea. They only had half the money for an apartment, and she was afraid of taking on a big mortgage. But he thought they should do it. They decided to look around. In the Lamed neighborhood, right next to a building that had collapsed in the last earthquake, there was a two-bedroom apartment on sale for next to nothing. It was on the fifth floor and the elevator was broken because the utility company workers were on strike. His foot still hurt from the bite and it was an absolute nightmare to walk up all those stairs. The albino who opened the door explained that he was leaving Israel because he’d got a fellowship for a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Princeton. “They don’t call it Middle Eastern Studies there,” he explained, “because they’re into all that PC stuff. But bottom line, my thesis is mostly about Arabs’ thought patterns and the way they’re different from ours.” The albino showed them around the spacious apartment, ending his tour on the balcony, where there was a view of the sea and the sun starting to set over it. “I’ll miss this place, though,” he said, shading his eyes with one hand, “where else am I going to find a sunset like this?”